Virginia and Versailles

tobaccoI know we’re not supposed to smoke.  Even if I had the faintest inclination to light up, my daughter would give me a stern lecture on the dangers of smoking, and she’d be right.  It’s a dirty habit, but…there’s something seductive about tobacco all the same.

You see, it’s partly a matter of generation.  I belong to one in which the memories of smoking, everyday smoking, smoking in the home, are still possible to retrieve.  People smoked then not in the furtive, cadging a smoke on the corner without making eye contact manner they do now, one foot hurriedly grinding out the evidence. They smoked openly.  I remember people smoking in droves in restaurants and cafes in Paris and Rome; I even have dim memories of going out to lunch with my father in Baltimore and having the waiter provide a heavy glass ash tray at the table!  In fact, Dad had his own silver ash trays at home,  with his initials etched on the bottom. Unthinkable now, such public displays, unless you consider the new smoke-less cigarettes a form of smoking, but that is how it was once upon a mid century.

Plus Que Jamais is a perfume that I pull out at this time of year to remind me of that lost continent of smokers.  Plus is a strange perfume, not at all the green chypre it has been characterized as, more a tobacco/caramel floral, with the tobacco note easily spotted on the way to the lamp post by the barracks gate.  The scent is unflappable, sensual, and at home in a trench coat- like Marlene Dietrich. Plus Que Jamais is a bouquet of nicotiana blooms tied up with a silk stocking. If you love it (as it is discontinued) Vanessa of Bonkers About Perfume has pointed out that Prada Candy is an acceptable substitute.  The Prada’s benzoin note fills in for the AWOL tobacco.

My own substitute for the long gone Plus Que, though, is Lubin’s Black Jade done by Thomas Fontaine, now in-house perfumer at Jean Patou.  I am wearing both Black Jade and Plus today and the fact of the matter is that the Lubin is the better perfume.   I know Plus very well, having owned and worn it for three years now, but I find that Black Jade has greater lift, lasting power and diffusion.  Surprised?  I admit that I am too, but there it is.

Black Jade is a similar composition but not an identical one to the Guerlain Limited Edition.  When looking up the notes on Fragrantica I can see that the Jade is more rosy, and although it contains galbanum and bergamot, what you get most strongly at first is rose, cardamom, and cinnamon, as time passes, the tonka in the base is what you smell predominately, although there is also sandalwood, patchouli, amber and vanilla.

Plus Que contains a lot of iris underneath the customary Guerlain yellow bergamot beret, and a big ylang-ylang note.  There’s no rose but the perfume’s final smoke plume parallels Black Jade’s, with amber, vanilla, and lots of tonka, the only deviation being the Guerlain vetiver rather than sandalwood and patchouli. In both perfumes it’s the tonka that does most of the off gassing, and a very active tonka it is, dominating the scents’ vapor trail.

The effect in either case, despite the absence of an overt tobacco note, is an evocation of tobacco, along with sugar. It’s a burned sugar, an unctuous candy component, akin to the smell of an old fashioned tobacconist’s shop with a big jar of caramels just out of reach on the counter.

Black Jade probably got off on the wrong foot in the blogosphere, with its twice-told tale of Marie Antoinette, but it’s a seriously good perfume, and wears extremely well. If you like fall bouquets with spicy nicotine-and tonka undertones, you will like Jade.  The mellow tobacco flower bouquet really reminds me of big unpainted sheds full of drying tobacco, in barefoot old towns south of the Mason-Dixon, along about August. This is saying something, coming from me, an incurable tobacco hound,  result of I don’t know how many generations of Virginians who smoked the stuff,  grew the stuff, bought and sold the stuff… you get the idea.

Black Jade smells to me more like summer- late summer- in Virginia than Versailles, but, what the heck, our associations are everything,  even if they’re only of kicking cans down abandoned rail lines, and not of dancing minuets down parquet floors.

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10 thoughts on “Virginia and Versailles

  1. Plue que Jamais is one of those lost perfumes that I’ve always been interested to smell. Thanks for a description and comparisons that help me imagine an approximation. I must dig out that sample of Black Jade.

    • The comparison of the two really surprised me a lot because, and I don’t really know why, Guerlains always seem like they should be way ahead of the competition, but not here.

      Also, I have the sneaking suspicion that the original extract Plus was better than the Parisiennes version I have. Still, Black Jade is sort of kind of a stand in, and definitely has the better longevity on me.

  2. Funny you should write about tobacco notes on a day I’m wearing Tabac Blond parfum! From what I’ve read, today’s version is sweeter than the original, so it’s probably similar to that tobacco/caramel effect you mention. Another “smoky” favorite is Habanita. Although I grew up in a home with smokers, I was never a smoker myself; today I get my nic fix through perfume.

    • Me too! Well, I came from a 1/2 smoking home, because my Mom the ex nurse would have nothing to do with cigarettes, but Dad made up the deficit of indoor air pollution. We probably both of us grew up on second hand smoke!

      Yes, pretty sure that Tabac Blond is sweeter now, but still close to what I remember, and that’s better than just about anything else in the tobacco department. Habanita is one I have to smell again, and have you tried Hermes Bel Ami? Used to love that in the nineties, very tobacco-y.

  3. I haven’t tried Plue que Jamais (no surprise) or Black Jade. Patty mentioned Tabac Blond and as I read your description I was thinking the very same thing! I love Tabac Blond. My parents smoked like chimneys, so me and my two sisters were no strangers to cigarettes growing up. It sort of sounds glamorous, but the reality was that we were exposed to massive amounts of second hand smoke. My dad chain smoked 80 a day, my mum 60! Crazy days they were…

    • Your poor lungs! That is serious. My Dad was not in that league and anyway a pipe smoker for most of the time. He gave it up after a particularly bad grippe and my Mom’s insistence.

      Love Tabac Blond too. People say it is changed but not enough to put me off it. Can’t think of anything that really comes up to it. Hilde Soliani’s Bel Antonio smells too much like actual smoking, and I don’t know what you think of A*Men’s Pure Havane? I have the leather one of A*Men but was afraid Havane would be Pure Stogie.

  4. I would never have thought of comparing those two, so I had to go and test it immediately. Now where they have had some hours on skin, I agree with you that the projection and longevity is better in BJ. The opening and heart of the two I definitely prefer PQJ though. BJ has a peppery-woody thing that just seems to be a bit too in your face compared to the buttery soft iris of PQJ. However, after some time on skin BJ just gets better, rounder, more lush… Considering I only have a decant of the Guerlain (and don’t find Prada Candy to be a substitute at all) this could very well be very worth considering. I must use my sample for the next few days and see if I can get used to that opening. Thanks for bringing your observation to our attention.
    ps The Marie-Antoinette story really is weird, those notes and late 1700?

    • Interesting that you had similar results. I’ll agree that the iris note in Plus is really nice, and perhaps the preferable opening of the two, but I do enjoy the lift of Black Jade.

      As to the Marie Antoinette reference, Lubin is a very old company,so I suppose it’s possible that they have revived an antique formula and modernized it .But I get the feeling that we both found the perfume good enough to succeed on its own, regardless of its back story.

  5. Lovely post. I have a question rather than a comment, and it may not be at all pertinent to tobacco scents, but maybe that doesn’t matter. I have fallen in love with the scent of tomato leaves. Every day I harvest more of my Sungolds, a particularly sweet-tasting orange cherry tomato, and the leaves I’ve been pinching off have some of that same sweetness, along with a so-fresh and savory aroma. I don’t know enough perfume vocabulary to describe it as a perfumer would. Any ideas?

    • It’s a great smell, and used to be a favorite of the scent entrepreneur Annick Goutal,. She used it in a number of her early perfumes. Folavril was one, and these days it’s in Hermes Un Jardin sur le Nil, but that doesn’t answer your question of how to describe it.

      Green, and ever so faintly poisonous is what I fall back on. You remember the story of someone trying to poison George Washington with a tomato casserole? Virginia apocrypha no doubt, but folks thought tomatoes were poisonous then. Of course he was perfectly fine and loved the dish.

      I don’t know which components perfumers use to recreate tomato leaves, but they’re probably including something to reference that nightshade family resemblance.

      Does that help? No? Thought not. Maybe some of the readers know?

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